On October 22, 2019, Ugandan authorities reportedly arrested at least twenty students peacefully protesting a tuition hike at Makerere University. The students were released on bail later that day.
In 2018, the university council reportedly approved a plan to increase tuition by fifteen percent each year over the course of five years. By the end of the five years, students’ tuition will have increased seventy-five percent. Students have decried the tuition increase as excessive. Some female students at Makerere have commented that they have had to “sell their bodies” in order to afford tuition.
During the morning of October 22, a group of more than twenty students — mostly female students — held placards as they began marching from Makerere University to the office of Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to deliver a petition protesting the tuition hikes. State security forces, including military and police personnel, confronted the students as they left campus, blocking them from advancing further. Security forces reportedly arrested at least twenty of the protesters as they attempted to flee.
The arrested students were transported to Wandegeya police station, where classmates would later congregate to protest for their release. The students were released later that day on bail, but reportedly face charges of “inciting violence” and “unlawful assembly.”
Two leaders of the protest, Siperia Mollie and Frank Bwambale, were reportedly issued suspension notices for their protest activities.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention and suspension of students in an apparent effort to restrict and retaliate against peaceful expressive activity — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uganda is a party. State and university authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting nonviolent expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, arbitrary arrests of student activists undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.